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TED And The Art of Loyalty

People don’t like to admit just how addicted they are to their smartphones.

I won’t be the first to blog about how many people are quite sensual with their devices. Don’t laugh. Think about the way you caress, touch, and engage with it. What is the last thing that you touch before you go to bed at night, or the first thing that you pick up when you wake up in the morning? What, too personal? Be honest: what’s your time to device in the am? Now compare that to your time to spouse? There is an ongoing debate about just how loyal consumers can (and should) be in such a fragmented world, but I’m here to tell you that loyalty is alive and well. Real loyalty (the stuff that transcends data sets, points accumulation and redemption strategies) is the stuff of legend. What if a brand was able to create such a sense of loyalty, that the urgency with which the consumer responds to an email is similar to the “time to device” reality outlined above?

I’ve got a thing for TED.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. The origins of this annual get-together took hold in 1984, when Richard Saul Wurman (famed architect, book author and renaissance man) decided to pull together an exclusive group of guests for his vision of the ideal dinner party. Today, TED is curated by Chris Anderson through a charitable foundation, and is best known for the TED Talks that gobble up audiences by the hundreds of millions via online video channels (their own, YouTube, podcast, and more) and their 18-minute presentations on topics as diverse as creativity and education to how video games can save you and why every adult needs a LEGO collection. The event/gathering/conference now has a global event (held outside of North America) and is also associated with TEDx events (local organizers leveraging the TED brand and blueprint to create their own event around a specific geography or topic).

On March 17th of this year, I made my annual pilgrimage to the TED conference in Vancouver, British Columbia (like I have been doing since 2009).

I am loyal to all things TED. “Loyal beyond reason,” as Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Wordlwide, Kevin Roberts, called it in his book, Lovemarks (TED is a lovemark). And, the reasons why act as a truth serum to other brands. My time to respond to TED emails over the years has become more like a “drop everything and pay attention,” type of experience. Those emails are right up there with my pathetically quick time to device in the am. In a connected world, where consumers have access to anything and everything at the touch of a connected device, the brands that make us most loyal have to do a lot more to rope us in. TED does this is so many profound and powerful ways.

What is it about the TED experience that makes the TEDsters so loyal, and what can brands learn from organization?

  1. You don’t buy a ticket, you join a movement. Some think it’s elitist, but I don’t. It’s exclusive. To take part in a TED experience, you can’t just buy a ticket to the event. You apply to become a member and, if accepted, your membership fee includes a ticket to their annual event. Along with that, you get access to an online social network with other members. Membership also includes a book club. Throughout the year, physical books are shipped or digital versions can be grabbed on your Kindle. TED is not an event, it’s a year-long build up of conversations and connections, so that the event becomes the crescendo.
  2. It’s not cheap and it’s limited. By having a hefty price tag, TED is able to create a level scarcity. The scarcity is built not just on the fee, but in the physical limitation of the seats available for their annual event. A total of 1500 people are accepted. This is more limited than you might think, because people (like me) keep attending year in and year out, so as the popularity increases, the scarcity increases as well. They’ve managed to add on events to compensate (like TED Global) and to have satellite events (like TED Active, which is a live simulcast of the event in another city).
  3. It’s not about the stage. It’s about the audience. TED releases all (or most) of the presentations for free online for everyone to watch, share and discuss. What everyone fails to realize is that the TED Talks account for only a small percentage of the TED experience. Because of the components mentioned above, the audience members are often just as (if not more) impressive as the people on the stage. The ability to rub shoulders, engage in discourse and have candid conversations with these types of luminaries from the technology, design, entertainment, business and the non-profit sectors is the real show. The curation of the audiences members is just as rigid as the speaker selection process.
  4. TED is gymnastics for the brain. Because TED curates the content and experience in such a tight and military-like fashion, it is designed to keep even the most Type A of business leaders on their collective heels. It is a full week of visual and mental immersion. It’s the type of experience that is hard to express in written or verbal forms of communication. I often tell people that talking about TED is like dancing to architecture (to spin the old Martin Mull saying that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”). It’s that type of muscle confusion-like experience that keeps everyone coming back, and attempting to explain it to anyone who will listen.   

How does your brand build that type of loyalty?

Are you getting people to join a movement, instead of simply buying a product or service? Can you create a sense of scarcity and exclusivity for your customers by creating an experience that everyone will want and talk about and share? Are you building something that will have your customers begging to be more connected – not just to your brand, but to other customers that you serve? Is what you’re doing creating a sense of business muscle-confusion, (in a good way) for your customers? Is every interaction with them adding value to their experiences and making them smarter at scale?

Tough questions to answer.

It’s not as simple as getting a customer’s email address or engaging with them on Facebook. It takes more than getting them to hand over some personal information in exchange for a card and some type of points/coupon plan. That’s not the true essence of loyalty. That’s a loyalty program. The powerful brands – the ones that really connect – are the ones who are deeply focused on creating a TED-like experience for their consumers… year in and year out.

It’s a higher calling for the brands of today.

The above posting is a column that was published to day in Colloquy. I cross-post it here unedited, with all of the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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Where Great Content Comes From

This could get gross. You have been warned.

Last week, I was lucky enough to have attended the TED conference. I’ve been going to this event since 2009. While most people can’t stop talking about how incredible the TED talks are (and yes, they are incredible), I wholly subscribe to the notion that they are but a small part of a much bigger (and more profound) experience. This year, one of the highlights was the return of Sarah Kay (you can watch her first TED talk below). Sarah was a part of the all-star stage, where famed TED speakers from events past got the chance to riff on what they have been up to since cranking million of views on YouTube and beyond. Kay was about to launch her latest book of poetry, No Matter The Wreckage. I know what you’re thinking at this point. You’re thinking that this is going to be some high brow blog post that you need to read with one pinky sticking out. Not the case. What makes Kay so awesome is her pragmatism. She’s all about getting everyone to try poetry. She’s about the democratization of poetry and spoken word, and encouraging young people to try it.

I’m a poet and I didn’t know it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anything about poetry. In fact, the only thing that I may know less about than poetry is ballet. So, I’m not that cultured. I choose Metallica over Monet on any given Sunday. Still, I love the work of Sarah Kay. After talking about her new book, recent travels and the fame of being famous because of TED, the host asked her about the construct of poetry, her levels of concentration and the effort it takes to create a poem. As someone who creates content, this line of questioning is fascinating. How does a poet toil over their prose and decide which words should go where? Do you know what Sarah told the audience?…

“Poetry is like pooping. If there’s a poem inside of you, it needs to come out.” 

There’s brilliance in this thinking (and yes, it’s pretty hilarious). It’s not just about poetry either. That statement is as true for brands who are posting to Facebook or can’t figure out what to blog about, as it is to the art of crafting a poem. I did a real life LOL when she said this, because it jettisoned me back to the moment when I knew I had to write my second book, CTRL ALT Delete. I don’t work in isolation. Everything that I do, create and publish has a direct relationship with Twist Image. The whole purpose of my work is to help people become better in marketing and business, with the hopes that should they require a digital marketing agency that Twist Image would be top of mind. I don’t just decide to write a book. I sit down with my three other business partners and have a conversation about it. I remember telling them how excited I was about the concept and more. We then discussed if the timing was right, considering the growth trajectory of the agency or if the market conditions made sense for a second book. All fair questions, but the book needed to come out. I remember telling them that my water broke, and the baby was coming. Timing and perfect market conditions could not be factors at this point. I was in labor!

Where do babies come from?

I get where Sarah Kay is coming from. Sure, innocuous content like a tweet or Facebook status update doesn’t require that type of urge, but even a blog post (or article) should give the content creator that type of feeling. You need to have something to say! All too often, brands (and certain individuals) are just looking to fill up space, to be present, to not waste an impression, to not fall off of their consumer’s radar. That’s silly. That’s content for content’s sake, instead of content because there is something important that needs to be shared. As brands struggle to figure out the secret to creating compelling content in a world where everyone is a content producer, and the levels of saturation continue to rise and rise, it would be wise to pay attention to the words of Sarah Kay. We all need to make sure that whatever it is that we’re producing needs to come out. That’s good poop. Let’s try to stay away from the content that’s being created just for the sake of creating it.

That’s bad poop.

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Ads Worth Watching… And Spreading

Some ads are worth watching (again and again). Totally true.

This week, I am attending the TED conference. TED has been working hard to highlight TV ads that are “ideas worth spreading.” When I hear people say that they hate advertising, I don’t believe them. People hate bad advertising and, unfortunately, a good bulk of the work that comes out of the advertising industry is mediocre at best. If you poke around on YouTube or Facebook, you will discover that people love ads that tell a story. People love ads that make them laugh, think, cry, grow and more. Volumes have been written about what it takes to produce a great spot. Volumes have also been written about the abysmal failure and poor reception that TV ads get. Still, when it works… it just works. Once again, TED has selected ten ads that work. They are worthy of your time and attention. And, if they do the job they are supposed to do, who knows you may just become a customer… a loyal one.

TED 2014′s Ads Worth Spreading:

P&G – Thank You Mom.

IBM – A Boy And His Atom.

Guinness – Basketball.

Adobe – Click, Baby, Click!

Google Earth – Saroo Brierly: Homeward Bound.

Dove – Camera Shy.

New Zealand Transport Agency – Mistakes.

Virgin America – Safety Dance.

Honda – Hands.

Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund – Let’s Save Africa.

Inspired?

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Even If You’re Not Doing Social Media, You Should Still Be Doing This…

In an effort to better involve themselves in social media, many brands still attempt to decide which channel to hop on.

It’s easy to do this. It’s easy to be attracted to whatever the bring and shiny object may be at the moment. Brands can be like little, distracted squirrels when it comes to social media. Some have already tinkered in places like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, while others simply haven’t invested the time and resources to figure out which one will serve them best. Many are wondering if Instagram, Vine and Pinterest can help them be better and do more. Most brands have fundamental challenges with the platforms because, while they are free to connect and engage with, it takes a tremendous amount of knowledge, patience and effort for it to bear juicy fruits. With that, the popularity of online social networking has also brought with it the complexity of paid media as well. For a lot of this more corporate content to rise above, it must now be boosted and supported with significant media dollars. We’re seeing everything from fan acquisition paid media strategies to companies that are paying to promote individual posts and tweets to garner attention. It sounds a lot like traditional media… and that’s because it is. Still, there are many brands (especially in the small and medium-sized business space) that are experiencing great returns by simply being present, helpful and interesting to customers and potential clients. If all of this sounds complex, it is because it is complex. The best way to understand this brave new word of marketing is to think of it as a publishing platform. Brands can create content (in text, images, audio and video) much in the same way that a publisher can create content, and brands can advertise on these publishing platforms as well. The biggest paradigm shift (that most brands still fail to comprehend) is that within this model, brands can also be the publisher or build their own publishing platform (meaning, they are no longer at the mercy of the publisher to run the content or negotiate the ad space with). It’s enough to make any business throw their hands up in the air and give up entirely. 

A way to step back, but still win at social media.

When asked where to start with social media, most gurus, thought leaders and ninjas will tell brands to listen. Spend some time on these channels listening to what consumers are talking about. Are they mentioning your brand, your competitors or the industry that you serve? It is sound advice and something that many brands can start doing right at this moment. There are free tools (like Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts) that can give you a semblance of what is being said, but times have changed. Social media is now close to fifteen years old (older, if you really want to get specific about when the popularity of blogging first took hold). There has been many layers of maturation in the space. Now, brands can (and should) be doing a lot more than just listening, when they decide to take the plunge into social media. In fact, if you’re still on the fence with social media, there is one big, major and fascinating thing that you can do to better understand not just social media, but how your brand is competitively performing in the marketplace: invest in a social media analytics tool.

Start with social media analytics.

This isn’t about measuring your brand efficacy in digital marketing (at least not yet), it’s about taking the first step (and making that first step a lot more power and profound than simply listening). Now, as a brand, you can gather insights about your business, your competitors and the industry that you serve like never before. Last week, eMarketer posted a news item titled, Marketers Adopt Social Media Analytics Tools, that looked at some new research on how close to two-thirds of companies in North America have adopted some kind of social media analytics tool (and how the increase has really taken shape in the past two years). What makes this research so compelling to brands who are not immersed in the digital marketing and social media space is how these tools are being used by organizations. According to the article, here is the breakdown:

  • Campaign tracking – 60%
  • Brand analysis – 48%
  • Competitive intelligence – 40%
  • Customer care – 36%
  • Product launch – 32%
  • Influencer ranking – 27%
  • Owned/earned media analysis – 18%
  • Product innovation – 11%
  • Category analysis – 11%
  • Risk management – 3%
  • Partner monitoring – 3%

What is this list screaming to you?

All of these activities. All of them. Can be used for every kind of business and you don’t need a social media presence to benefit from the results. I would argue that augmenting your current marketing and communications strategies with social media is smart, but that’s an entirely other conversation piece. Think about what these new (and constantly improving) social media analytics tools can tell you about everything that you are doing to grow your business. Even if all you are doing is taking out local ads in the newspaper and on radio, a good social media analytics tool can let you know how that campaign is tracking (are people talking about it online, sharing it, etc…), it can tell you how well your brand is perceived, what people think of your competitors, how well you are handling customer service issues and so much more.

Beyond listening. Beyond doing.

Sadly, most brands see social media analytics tools as an engine to better understand how they are performing in social media. Instead, the true opportunity is in understanding just how powerful and profound these tools are in giving you a true temperature check on the overall health of your business and the brand. Have you had success on Facebook? What about Twitter? If your peers are trying to talk you into (or out of) using these channels to build your business, it is in your best interest to start with a strong social media analytics tool and from there start building a true marketing strategy that is driven by your business goals. No need to to hop on the latest craze, and no need to just listen to chatter any longer. Do yourself, your business and your future a favor. Start paying attention to everything that is going on in the social media space, and use these analytics as a barometer for what’s happening in your business and what you can do – with each and every passing day – to improve it.

Social media analytics… it’s not just to see if Facebook is working for you anymore.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for Inc. Magazine called Reboot: Marketing. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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A Foolproof Way To Building A Great Story

If you are in business and you are trying to tell your story, you have to watch this.

I am thrilled that Steven Pressfield decided to post these two videos on YouTube. I’m a huge Pressfield fan (you can listen to my conversation with him right here: S…

The Secret Life Of Social Media

Shhhh, don’t tell anybody anything (even though I just posted this secret online for anyone to see).

It has been brewing for some time, and it’s a difficult trend for businesses not to understand and embrace. As much as our social lives are now made public in everything from 140-characters of text on Twitter to long-form videos that we post of ourselves on YouTube, there is a growing mass audience (and developers behind them) that are creating an entirely new (and private) layers to social media. And, if all goes according to their plan, it could very well be the proverbial needle to pop the balloon of how brands have attempted to market to consumers using modern technology.

What’s the hottest thing happening right now?

It’s Snapchat, of course. Isn’t it? Lauded by the younger generation because they can send each other photographs/mini videos via smartphones and tablets that are incinerated once viewed (leaving no trace for parents, etc…). The app has become so formidable, that Facebook offered to buy them late last year for a reported $3 billion, which Snapchat turned down. Turning down $3 billion dollars buys a lot of attention and street cred. The private online social network continues to grow, as brands like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Acura and others have been jumping on board to figure out if Snapchat’s community of 30 million-plus users (and growing) cares to get this type of micro-disposable content from brands. Maybe, it’s not Snapchat that is the hottest thing anymore. One could argue that the hottest thing happening right now, is the fact that Facebook bounced back from this rejection and managed to acquire the cross-platform mobile messaging platform WhatsApp for an astonishing $19 billion two weeks ago. With close to 500 million users and growing, WhatsApp is, in its purest form, BlackBerry Messenger (which, of course, is now available for Android and Apple users as well) that works on any mobile device and any mobile carrier. In fact, the deal was so massive that it completely over-shadowed the fact that a similar messaging platform, Viber, was also recently acquired for $900 million by Rakuten (a Japanese online commerce platform).

Think about it: private pictures, videos, messages and more. That doesn’t sound very social, does it?

While companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter monopolize the growing areas of online social networking, what we’re beginning to see is continued growth and interest in private online social networking. The types of content, conversation and sharing that is done outside of the public limelight. Sometimes anonymously. Sometimes between two friends. It just doesn’t feel like the place that brands can insert themselves to monetize a growing user base, does it?

I have a secret to tell.

While they have not been acquired for hundreds of millions of dollars (yet), the San Francisco based startup Secret (that was founded by two former Google and Square employees) is getting tons of attention, followers and fans. In short, you can write anything that’s on your mind, add photos or colors to the background and customize this content while being able to share it – free of judgment – and without attaching any of your personal information or profile to it. It feels like a more modern, mobile and more social version of Post Secret (where individuals physically mail their anonymous secrets on the back of a postcard to a group that then scans and shares the most creative ones online). While Secret isn’t the first or only app like this, it is currently getting the lion’s share of media and consumer attention. Do you really want brands to share secrets with you? Does that even make sense? Secret follows in a long line of increasingly popular platforms that are moving towards more private, restricted and personal interactions. Path (which launched back in 2010) seemed like a more mobile version of Facebook with one major distinction:Path only allowed a maximum of 150 connections (which followed Dunbar’s number theory that human beings can only maintain a total of 150 true relationships). Small stuff, right?

What matters most to you: Public life? Professional life? Social life? Personal life?

What we’re now seeing is motion away from all of this publicness that we have been experiencing at the hands of social media for the past decade, or we’re simply seeing the mass development of a completely different type of private online social networking. In fact, if you look at where the venture capital dollars and user growth is currently happening, we could well arrive at a juncture which finds consumers much less interested in the public chest beating of their semi-consequential day-to-day accomplishments on social media, and a much more focused desire to use technology as a communications platform to add more personal meaning. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp could substantiate this (why wouldn’t they want to own both the public and private online social networks of consumers?). So, while Ellen may have broken Twitter with her a-list selfie stunt from the Oscar’s, we may be at the nascent stages of seeing a brand new type of social media play that is small, intimate and, seemingly, impermeable to brands, advertisers and media companies. A place where twerking could well find it’s perfect home… behind closed doors and not out in public.

Are private online social networks the future of social media? More interesting will be how brands will react and engage with this new reality. 

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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Crazy, Sexy, Cool: Attributes Of The Most Clickable Ads

How entertaining is your brand?

On the surface, this may seen like a simple question to answer. If you produce movies, energy drinks or running shoes, you probably have something that is highly entertaining. Most of us don’t work for brands like that. We sell valves, insurance policies, accounting services and the like. Not the kind of stuff that evokes deep emotions like laughter and tears. Still, we live in a day and age when most brands are forced to be out there. Not just with television commercials, flyers and ads on the radio, but actively engaged online. We need to get people to like our brand on Facebook, pin our images on Pinterest, subscribe to our YouTube channels, retweet our 140-characters of goodness on Twitter and more for attention. In fact, when it comes to the modern marketing mix, you will often find many companies struggle so desperately, that they are willing to buy media to promote their content posts or spend money on fan acquisition (there’s an oxymoron in there, if you think about it). There are countless strategies that marketing pundits will put forward in order to help brands understand where and how to create value in a world that has never been so cluttered with advertising.

Screaming louder than everyone else.

If you go back a mere fifteen years, marketing experienced a new dawn. Social media brought with it the ability for brands to have real interactions with real human beings. As powerful and profound as that was (and still is), the waters have become quite murky. The current arms race for likes, friends, followers, subscribers, retweets, pins and more has brought with it an over-simplification of what a brand should be pursuing. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like are no longer encouraging brands to figure out a way to create a depth of meaning and connection with their consumers. If you scratch slightly beneath the surface, everything that they offer is sold much in the same way that traditional media outlets have sold their traditional advertising. It has become just another type of marketplace, where the brand who screams the loudest gets the most attention. So, is the promise of social media dead? Do we really need to care about depth of interactions, building true relationships, nurturing people towards engagement, or are we looking for just another quick fix in a long history of advertising’s version of the one night stand?  

Tell me what you want… what you really, really want.

You would think that as your business adds digital marketing into a more prominent position within a marketing mix, that the true value will come from time spent digging deep into what adds value to the consumers life. How can your brand – in a world where anyone can publish anything in text, images, audio and video – create something so compelling that it becomes an integral part of a consumer’s digital experience. Well, it turns out that the pace with which consumers are ignoring advertising messages has not dissipated in a world where we have an incredible ability to target, customize, personalize and build a true relationship. According to a Research Brief news item published earlier this week titled, Four of Five American Consumers Ignore Online Ads Most Frequently, the digital world is having just as much trouble capturing a consumer’s attention. “82% of Americans ignore online ads, ahead of television ads at 37%. 92% of Americans ignore at least one type of ad seen every day across six different types of media,” according to the article about the first annual Goo Online Advertising Survey. “The online ads Americans are most likely to ignore included: online banner ads (73%), followed by social media ads (62%), and search engine ads (59%). The highest wage earners, those with a household income of $100k+ per year, were statistically more likely than those households making less than $50k per year (86% vs. 78%, respectively) to say they ignore online ads. Overall, the 65+ age group ignored the most, while the 35-44 age group ignored the least.”

Advertising revenue would beg to differ.

If that one study is reflective of the industry at large, the fire alarms should be clanging from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley. We continue to see a sharp increase of ad spend shift from traditional channels to digital ones in hopes that customization, analytics and targeting will create a more effective form of advertising. So, what do consumers really want? The Goo Technologies went on to report that consumers would like advertising to:

  • Look more interesting.
  • Not feel like an ad (whatever that means).
  • Be funny.
  • Be entertaining.
  • Have stunning graphics.
  • Have a sexy man or woman in the ad (I can’t make this stuff up).
  • Be more interactive.

Nothing new in new media.

If you’re wondering why all of that technology, analytics, retargeting and more is not moving the needle in your advertising, or why that last YouTube video didn’t find the viral success that you were hoping for, it turns out that consumers – no matter how evolved they are in their technological prowess around media channels, content creation and devices – are overwhelmed. There is a sheer brunt force of advertising everywhere. They are either completely ignoring advertising or simply want it to give them a chuckle or raise an eyebrow and move on. As simple as that sounds, not many brands are in the business of entertainment, and that’s the true rub. Consumers are online, connected, creating, curating, sharing and more. As intellectual and powerful as that is, nothing will get them to act on your message unless you can really entertain them. Smart advertising is good entertainment. Surprise! Nothing much has really changed in the game of advertising no matter how sophisticated and evolved the platforms and opportunities have become.

So, how entertaining is your brand?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for Inc. Magazine called Reboot: Marketing. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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What Is The Point Of A Website In 2014?

It’s not all about what the mobile experience will be about.

The one screen world. It’s a concept often written about in these posts and it’s an ideology that was created to force brands to start thinking about true customer-centricity instead of business and brand-driven silos (also check out my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete). We live in a world where the only screen that matters is the screen that is in front of me. We live in a world where screens are here, there and everywhere. They are in the palms of our hands, on our wrists, on our glasses, on our computers, and push out many forms of information and entertainment to us in a myriad of ways. Consumers don’t think about it any more. Screens are everywhere (and, if they aren’t there yet, they will be soon). Billions upon billions of connected people and connected devices. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this all means, and how it changes the dynamics of our lives, of business and the brands that need to stay afloat.

Still, don’t forget about your website.

It may sound cliché, but we live in a world where brands are increasingly leaving the information, data capture and power of building the direct relationship to chance or to someone else. We are seeing an increase in brands leaving their true engagement to social media (be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube or beyond). They are letting these online social networks do the heavy lifting of nurturing the brand narrative, while they focus on building mobile apps and other ways to connect. What we’re beginning to see (in a post-PC and post-Web browser world) is a knowing abandonment of the website, instead of re-imagining it to become the powerful engine of business that it truly can be.

What is the point of a website in 2014?

That is the question. If you go back in time (and we’re talking within this past decade), most companies used their websites in two way:

  1. To provide a level of information.
  2. To sell their wares.

Breaking that down a little bit more, brands used the Internet as a way to create more interactive brochures of their wares, or as a way to sell directly to their consumers. Nobody is going to argue that these still act as important functions in the business world, but there is something more. If advertising is a vertical function within the marketing department and the marketing department acts as its own vertical within the organization, we’re missing the bigger business opportunity and, with it, the biggest opportunity in developing a stronger brand.

Advertising is a vertical, but marketing becomes horizontal.

If you think about marketing in its purest form (the engines of developing and optimizing the product, it’s pricing models, how it is distributed – in both physical and virtual formats – and how it is promoted), we can’t deny that the role of marketing must adapt to meet the inter-connectedness of the world. In short, marketing has to move from a vertical within the organization into a horizontal functional that goes across the organization. Marketing, clearly, needs to touch everything. If the websites can think, act and demonstrate this variance, what we have is a new model of Web efficiency. It’s also the type of function that can’t be done efficiently on mobile (yet, but that could be changing).

What a Web of efficiency can look like.

Instead of letting the website wither on the vine, as the brand focuses on social media, content marketing, mobile apps and beyond, re-focus the website as the digital embodiment of the brand. In a world of micro-content and real-time marketing, this seems like the logical step for brands to take (but most are not). What is the first true brand impression that people receive? Even in a world where word of mouth has digitized with global reach, most people looking for anything will still default to some form of search prior to purchase (and, we’re even seeing layers of data to support that this is happening with “impulse buy” products as well). Whether it’s a Google search box or a post on Facebook, consumers turn to digital channels to better understand a product and/or service. This is nothing new. It’s been happening for close to twenty years, at this point. The difference is that brands can now use their websites as an engine to change the sales funnel and build better marketing interactions. It’s hard work, but it can be done. My close friend and colleague, Avinash Kaushik (Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and the author of Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0) best defines this by understanding what a true conversion is. Most brands define “success” or a “conversion” if a customer buys from them or calls for an appointment. This zero-sum race to a conversion is not the actual path to purchase for consumers (we know this, and it’s basic). Still, we build these massive websites, with hefty investments with that being the sole focus. What Avinash says is that we need to break this up. We need to think about all of the things consumers want on their way to make the purchase, and to quantify each of these steps as micro-conversions. This is when things start getting exciting. Maybe a consumer watches a video, signs up for an e-newsletter, likes your brand on Facebook, etc… each one of the touch points can (and should) be assigned a micro-conversion, with a scoring system attached to it (you can use points, dollar amounts, whatever). Using simple (and free) analytics, this information can easily be tracked, and then turned into a more realistic sales funnel that depicts both a path to purchase, and can validate just how good your creative and content is (or how poorly it is performing). This is all about efficiency and cutting the fat. It’s not about adding more stuff.

… And there is so much…

Multivariate testing, landing pages, leveraging targeted keywords to see what drives people where, and how engaged they become are just the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t even begun to think about eCRM, creating a testing and learning environment, getting smarter about where things go and how they persuade the path to purchase… and beyond. It’s enough to make your head spin. And, that’s the point. It’s 2014, and most websites still want you to read and/or buy, instead of being that true digital embodiment of the brand. So, if all your website does is sell or inform, it seems easy enough to leave it behind and let the online social networks do this work (because that is where people are congregated and connected), or to do this on a mobile app (because that is where people are, increasingly, grabbing or doing this type of stuff). What happens is that a massive chasm of business opportunity gets lost because brands live in dogma. Their old ways of doing things. The thing about these web engines of efficiency is that it’s not easy to do. You can’t just hire an agency to build you something. It’s a collaborative  process that is hard and requires a different way of operating (both internally and externally). It requires a brand to re-think how they get new customers and keep old ones. And, while this may sound scary, it also provides one of the biggest opportunities to truly grow a business. It’s (sadly) something that most brands are dismissing because of the classic shiny, bright objects that are out there or their belief that this new way of thinking is risky. This is isn’t about risk. It’s about efficiency. It’s about actually looking at how people buy and making everything (from you advertising to your content) work for you, instead of giving you more work to do.

Your website is – and could well be – the true heart of the soul of your brand, it just takes the courage to accept it and the hard work to do it.   

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The Internet Will Break Your Creative Block

Writer’s block? Creative block? Can’t come up with something to create?

Steven Pressfield hates the words “writer’s block.” He believes that we’re all just fighting the “resistance” to create something (writing, that new startup, a project, whatever). His books, The War of Art, Do The Work and others are all about “putting you ass where your heart is,” as he calls it. Seth Godin feels that there is no such thing as writer’s block, because we don’t have thinker’s block or talker’s block, so if you write the way that you talk, there is no way to ever be unable to create. I believe that some days the creativity simply flows better than it does on other days. I can’t tell you how many times I have done a similar presentation, and on one day everything seems to be flowing wonderfully, then the next day it feels like I have to dig a ditch to string together the most simplest of sentences. I also believe that it’s hard not to create so long as you are inspired. The more you see, feel and hear, the more things there are to be inspired be. Be the infovore.

Inspiration is now everywhere.

Of course, that’s nothing new (thank you, Internet), but it is something that is often forgotten or dismissed. We used to have to go to the museum to be inspired. Some might go to a concert, a movie, the library, have a deep conversation with a friend at the coffee shop or even hit the local stand-up comedy club. At best, we might be inspired by something we read in a newspaper at home, saw on TV, read in a book, or heard on the radio. If you are tinkering in the right spaces online, it’s impossible to not be inspired. Always. Constantly.

Pushing beyond memes, Buzzfeed and Upworthy.

It’s easy to get lost in listicles and the bulk of snackable content that the Web provides. Look no further than your Twitter or Facebook feeds for hours and hours of animated GIFs, useless YouTube videos and Reddit randomness. There’s nothing wrong with it, but to then turn around and say that you have writer’s block or that you’re struggling to come up with an original idea, would lead me to believe that you’re simply skimming along the Internet instead of digging deep into the treasure trove of amazing, free and powerful content that is everywhere. There have been days that I have looked up at the clock – in the later part of the evening – only to realize that no topic, piece of news or anything has brimmed to the top and had me begging for a keyboard to blog. It’s at that point that I turn back to the Internet and start digging in random corners looking for inspiration.

It has never failed to inspire me.

Criticize the amount of content on the Internet. Balk at the true value and merits of it. Do as you will. I can’t imagine going back in time to a day and age when I found myself waiting at the local newsstand/magazine store for a new issue of Fast Company magazine to show up in the pre-Internet days. Plus, you would be surprised at just how much of the most juvenile or uninformed content that you come across online can be completely inspiring to get you creating. How often have you read something and wanted to immediately Javex your eyeballs, because you could not believe how stupid a perspective was? Well, guess what? That’s inspiration knocking on your noggin and begging for you to set the record straight by creating something with your own twist and perspective on it.

The Internet is the great liberator of creativity. 

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Don’t believe me? Go pull up any piece of content (or, feel free to use this one) and write your own little article, post or journal entry about it. If you choose this one, ask yourself what you think about creative blocks, finding new ideas or how to be inspired? Now, share it! If it’s not this piece of content, but something, just start with this question: what do you agree/disagree with what you just consumed?

See, it works! Let the ideas flow!

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If You’re Going To Speak In Public, Please Don’t Do This…

Everyone is talking about the Michael Bay meltdown that happened at CES.

I hate the whole “kicking someone when they are down mentality,” but this is worth watching if you ever have to present or speak in public…

Ugh… it’s tough to watch, isn’t it?

Because I am often asked to speak in public and I have a personal passion for the art of public speaking, my email, social feeds and phone have (literally) been a-buzz all day about this incident. I can’t imagine how Bay currently feels (if you’re interested, he has posted a response on his personal blog and did a brief interview with TMZ). The human side of this is brutal. I would hate for this to happen to anyone. I’m sure he’s not feeling all that great about the situation. And, to make it even worse, I feel like even commenting on this incident simply creates more attention to it (which, I am sure, Bay does not really want). That being said…

This incident has nothing to do with public speaking, a fear of public speaking or anything like that!

It’s true. Michael Bay was not doing any form of public speaking. He was going to read on stage, live in front of an audience (something that he has never read or rehearsed before). That’s not speaking. That’s reading. He was going to attempt Public Reading not Public Speaking (these are not the same thing). I write a lot about this particular issue/fear right here: Overcoming Stage Fright. Bay is not a professional speaker. Bay never claimed to be a professional speaker. Still, Samsung paid him and he agreed to this event. The teleprompter either broke or he said the wrong line and this threw off the script and flow. The truth is that none of that matters because Bay broke the cardinal rule of presenting in public long before the wheels of his plane touched the ground in Las Vegas: he did not prepare. Not even for a second. You can tell by watching the video. Regardless of the teleprompter, it’s clear that Bay had two speaking points: what is his work day in and day out, and what does he think of the new curved glass TV? He got so flustered that he couldn’t even respond to those two questions, so he bolted from the stage. Five minutes of preparation would have changed all of that. Yes, five minutes.

It goes like this…

Here’s how the five minute preparation should have gone in terms of giving Bay some direction: “We’re going to use a teleprompter and it has our whole script on it. Let’s meet 30 minutes before we go live and run through it a couple of times to get a feel for the stage and the interaction between everyone on stage. Technology might fail us, so if it does, let’s just be sure that you’re comfortable speaking to two key points: what your job is every day and how you work, and what you think about the new Samsung TV. If things really start going bad, be comfortable acknowledging it by letting the audience know that you’re a director, that you’re nervous but you’re also really excited about this new TV and everything it can do.” Obviously, nobody wants to be at the point where we’re apologizing and letting the audience know that we’re nervous, but that is the parachute for moments like this. In that quick five minute conversation, Bay would have had a mental framework, and would have been able to take ownership of the content instead of being paralyzed because he didn’t know or prepare any of the content (regardless of the teleprompter).

…And here we are.

Bay is right. In his TMZ interview he said that he had a “human moment.” We all have them. Good, bad and ugly. So, what turned out to be a bad day for Bay and an embarrassing moment deserves some empathy, but it’s not something that could happen to any of us. It’s something that happens when you don’t know the content and don’t do any preparation. So yes, it’s a human moment, but it is a completely preventable one. I write this because it’s moments like this that people will point to as a reason/excuse for them to not present (“I don’t want to pull a Michael Bay up there, so I better not speak!”). You don’t have to be a master presenter. You don’t have to be a pro. You do have to have a semblance of knowledge as to what you’re going to speak about, and you do have to prepare for it (more on that right here: How To Give A Great Presentation (Seriously). I feel terrible for Bay. I watched that YouTube clip once and could not watch it again. It is very uncomfortable for everyone. What’s most important is that it doesn’t act as a deterrent for you (or anyone you know) to speak. If you do know your content and you have prepared, and you do freeze up (which can happen), please don’t run off. Just stop. Let the audience know that you’re human and that you are nervous. Apologize. Nobody will die and no one will hate you. At the same time, also let them know that you have prepared. Then, ask yourself this one question (in your mind): “what did I want to tell these good looking people?” And answer it to the audience.

You will be fine.

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The George Costanza Approach To Getting Things Done

Do the opposite.

Do you remember that Seinfeld episode when George Costanza decided to do everything the opposite of what he had done to date? Watch this:

Do the opposite.

I’m not telling you to do the opposite of everything you have done to date, but sometimes the best case scenario or the white paper or the certainty of an expert’s opinion could lead you down the wrong path. Case in point: at this time of the year, it’s almost impossible to not be inundated with content around how to have the best year ever. It could come in the form of productivity tips, New Year’s Resolutions, self-help books, perspectives on diet and exercise and beyond. You see this content in the mass media, on blogs (like this one), in tweets, motivational pictures on Instagram, specific Pinterest boards and more. As an infovore, it has been the bulk of content that I have seen (and been consuming) for the past little while. It’s hard not have some of this thinking seep into my own thinking around the type of year that I would like 2014 to be. One of the recurring themes that I have seen, heard and read is to ignore things like email, making phone calls and social media first thing in the day. Many great thinkers (and you can Google it), will tell you that the first thing that you should do once you get up and get your work day on, is to focus and spend and fixed and blocked time on the really important stuff. No email. No social media. No phone calls. Start your day by burying yourself in your work and block out everything else (even if you need technology like Freedom to do so!).

That one gave me pause.

I do the complete opposite. For me to have the energy to think about the big stuff (client strategies at Twist Image, pushing forward our business development plans at the agency or even writing a blog post), I need all of that little stuff off of my radar. Watching the inbox grow or even simple birthday wishes to friends on Facebook stack up over the course of the day, doesn’t help me focus on the big stuff. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Again, this is a personal thing (and, it could well be just me who feels this way), but knowing that my inbox has been sanitized and that I’ve done a quick review on social media tends to make me feel like I’m a little bit more informed as to what’s happening in the world, and that my communication for the day is (somewhat) complete. I’m no night owl, either. It’s not like I spend my whole day on email and social media praying for a few scant moments towards the end of the day to work on the bigger things, but I do prefer the feeling like I am (somewhat) up-to-speed and not falling behind on those little things. Also, those little things tend to inspire new thinking or spark and idea. They always do.

These experts.

These same experts also tell you to stay concentrated and not to shift from one window to another. So, if you are doing work, don’t hop over to Facebook or YouTube (even for a second). There is research that states it can take close to 25 minutes to get back into the groove of what you were doing, so it is a pure loss of efficiency (that most people don’t even realize). This may be true, but I find that those mental breaks often help me in finding the right words or different ways of thinking to add more color and perspective. I often need a lot of little breaks because I tend to work best in shorter spurts. As Seth Godin would say, “your mileage may vary.” 

Don’t play music. Play music.

People love to know how other people work. We tend to believe that how they work has some kind of correlation to the actual output. I’m not sure where I sit on that fence. There are days when music helps me write and there are days when anything but silence can throw off my concentration. There are days when I am fully concentrated and engaged, but the output of my ideas don’t seem to find the right flow… and then there’s the opposite as well. Again, this is less about process, superstition and other tactics. The thing is to find your own flow and be open to having that same flow find a new river, valley and waterfall to roll into (and that can happen daily). Currently, I am writing this blog post on a makeshift standing desk (that I made using a computer lap desk) with music is blasting along with it. I’m not sure how long I’ll last at a standing desk or be able to find the right words with this modern jazz blazing in the background. Today, it works. Tomorrow, it might not. What I do know is that sometimes doing the opposite of what every expert is telling you to do can create something magical (I guess, I’m also telling you to not believe everyone and everything you read and see… including me).

True innovation and creativity is about finding your own path and not trying to replicate what someone else has done (even if you define them as successful), simply because a process works for them.

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Finding Your Creative Confidence

I used to play the bass.

Not the fish. The musical instrument. The electric bass, to be exact. It wasn’t just a hobby, either. I took it quite seriously. When I was much younger (around 14 years of age), I decided to forgo a summer vacation with my high school class to work in a warehouse packing make-up, just so I could afford my first electric bass (a new one… as I was already tinkering with a used one). I played throughout high school in multiple bands and even studied music in a post-secondary institution for several years. I wasn’t the next Jaco Pastorius, but I loved the four strings. I’ve always kept music floating around the house and office. Random acoustic guitars, some of my older basses and beyond. My favorite bass was a Spector NS2B that I got in the late eighties. I don’t even have a case for it anymore (no idea where that went), but it has followed me for close to two decades. I don’t play it much anymore… and I haven’t changed the strings in forever.

Then, I got embarrassed. 

We had our annual Twist Image holiday party a few weeks back and our amazing team pulled together a house party-theme for this year’s event. It was held in our Montreal office, featured local fare and a live house band. Two of my three business partners are musicians and they decided to jam. They (and some of the other team members) urged me to join them, but I couldn’t. I had not played in so long that I wasn’t even sure if I knew the notes (let alone the chops to do a simple walking bass line). I was mad at myself. Not because I didn’t jam with the boys, but because I wasn’t sure if I had lost my chops or my creative confidence. Can you forget how to play bass or is it as silly as thinking that you can forget how to speak if you’re silent for a really long time?

It’s all about creative confidence.

With the holiday break upon us, I blew the dust off of my Spector bass and started fiddling with it. Wouldn’t you know it, it didn’t take all that long until the feeling, fun and joy of playing the bass came back. It’s hard to play that bass and not smile… and, that’s when it hit me. Music is still a powerful, pervasive and creative force in my life, but sadly it’s one that I have not been nurturing. I brought the bass down to Steve’s Music Store for a tune-up. It turns out that my little patient may have died on the operating table (too many years of neglect), so I decided to buy a new electric bass (and I’ll keep the old one as a souvenir). I plan on taking some lessons… maybe even jam with some others at some point in the future (any takers? ;) .

This isn’t about New Year’s Resolutions.

The serendipity of life can be fascinating. In the process of reviving my interest in the electric bass and playing music, I just so happen to be reading the book, Creative Confidence, by IDEO‘s David Kelley and Tom Kelley. It’s a book based on the notion that all of us are creative. It’s what human beings are, but we suppress or disguise our creativity. The Kelley brothers think of creativity as “using your imagination to create something new in the world,” and they are passionate about empathy (when you understand your fellow human being) as one of the major gateways to gaining that creative confidence. They’re also passionate about the fact that all of us – no matter how mundane our jobs may be – have been creative (and that we should be doing more of it). Now, along with reading Creative Confidence, I also found myself on YouTube, randomly watching videos from some of the bass players that influenced my love of the instrument when I was younger. It’s not an exhaustive list, but Victor Wooten holds a coveted spot on that list. As I was grazing through some of his instructional and performance clips, I came across a TEDx talk that he gave at TEDxGabriolaIsland  in March of this year. As a long-time TEDster, I felt my world’s colliding again. Wooten’s talk is titled, Music As A Language, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. Beyond his passion to teach music and play music, Wooten touches on so many important themes in this 18 minute talk.

You don’t have to love the electric bass to love this line of thinking.

It doesn’t matter if you are a musician or not, please watch Victor Wooten’s talk. His lessons about life, success, creativity, learning, passion, permission and smiling are profound. I promise. I’m going to smile a lot more in the office, when I write these blog posts, when I speak on stage and in everything that I do. I think you will too…

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Why We Fail At The Things We Want To Accomplish (And What To Do About That)

I caught myself giggling in the car yesterday morning.

I was on my way to work and listening to Howard Stern on satellite radio (it’s one of my daily rituals). Stern was doing a “Best Of 2013″ that featured some of the gang’s favorite segments. I was lucky enough to catch his amazing interview with Jerry Seinfeld (sidebar rant: Seinfeld’s amazing Internet show, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, returns in the New Year and Howard Stern is one of his guests). Seinfeld is known for his intense work ethic. If there is one individual who embodies the work of David Allen‘s Getting Things Done, it is Seinfeld. He was recounting a story to Stern about an earlier episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee with Sarah Silverman, and a conversation he had with her that didn’t make it to the show. Sarah Silverman was telling Seinfeld all about people who come up to her and say things like, “I’m thinking about writing a book,” or “I’m thinking about doing stand-up comedy,” to which she always answers, “you’re never going to do it.” I could not stop myself from laughing. If you start anything with, “I’m thinking about…,” Silverman figures, it ain’t going to happen. We all know she’s right.

How many of those “I’m thinking about…” do you have on your list?  

I’m thinking about losing eight pounds. I’m thinking about picking up the electric bass again. I’m thinking about taking a drawing course. I’m thinking about taking a course on standup comedy. I’m thinking about… It’s kind of funny. It’s kind of true. I’d really love to do these things, but I’m probably not going to… unless I just do it (then, you won’t have to ever say that you’re thinking about doing it, because you are doing it). I’ve been devouring a recently published book titled, Manage Your Day-To-Day – Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, And Sharpen Your Creative Mind, which is edited by Jocelyn K. Glei and Scott Belsky from 99U. It’s a mix of great quotes, insights from creative people on how to optimize your time effectively and celebrity interviews. One of those interviews is with Dan Ariely (noted professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, famed TED speaker and the author of Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality and The Honest Truth about Dishonesty). I love Dan’s work and – beyond that – I am forever indebted to him, personally (he was kind enough to introduce me to his literary agent who became my literary agent). In the chapter on distractions and multi-tasking, Dan provides this fascinating insight…

“Every time you’re doing something, you’re not doing something else. But you don’t really see what it is that you’re giving up. Especially when it comes to, lets say, e-mail versus  doing something that takes fifty hours. It is very easy for you to see the e-mail. It is not that easy for you to see the thing that takes fifty hours.”

What activities do you think that we, as human beings, default to?

We’re busy. Very busy. The problem is that so few of us can take the ideology of Seinfeld, Silverman and Ariely and coalesce it into something bigger. How often do you find yourself spending countless hours responding to emails, going to repetitive meetings, etc…? We go through our days thinking about how busy we are, based on our inbox and our calendars, but we don’t spend nearly enough time thinking deeply about the true work that we’re supposed to be doing. It’s amazing how these little distractions add up in our lives and fool us into thinking that we’re busy and accomplishing anything.

Block some time. Block some real time.

That’s what I am starting to do during this break. I am blocking an hour here and an hour there in my schedule, each and every week to work on those projects that will take fifty hours (or more). It’s basic math. Two hours a week equals eight hours a month. Just think about how those big projects can come together in a much shorter period of time. I’m also going to block those hours when things may be a little quieter (earlier in the day) and when I’m feeling most creative (usually before and after regular work hours). As amazing as technology is (see my post from yesterday), I often catch myself addicted to the drug of the inbox, the newsfeed, a to-do list, or related content on YouTube. The wormhole of technology is now a deep one. Emails don’t make us do great work. Emails keep us busy. So, it becomes (somewhat) obvious that we fail at the things that we want to accomplish, because life is full of small, medium and large distractions. Perhaps the answer is to figure out a way to re-program our habits, so that the things that we want to accomplish can be broken up and booked into a schedule in a way that enables the true work to replace the distraction of everything else. Sounds like a sound strategy to me.

I’m hoping to see that “something else” that Ariely talks about. I hope you can too.

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My Love Affair With Pocket

Where do you save and read your online content?

You would think that with all of this technology and content that we’re constantly creating, publishing and reading, that it would be a whole lot simpler to save, share and consume it. It’s not. It’s a mess. And, I’m guess that if it’s a mess for me, it’s an even bigger disaster for those who are less inclined to spend the time figuring out which services are the best and which ones can be trusted. If we go back to the early days of online content, I quickly became enamored with Delicious (which, at the time, was a bookmarking service coupled with an online social network). You could not only save and retrieve content on Delicious, but you could follow friends and see what they were saving. Most of that technology was driven by the nascent days of tagging content. Over the years, other services came online, Delicious got acquired by Yahoo, RSS readers (like Google Reader) came into play and, well, things just started getting messy again.

A system to save and find content.

For years, I would bounce back and forth. From taking physical notes of things to check out, to using Google Reader to having specific folders in my email program for areas of interest. In short, it just felt like everything was all over the place. It was less about trying to capture and consumer everything, and much more about having an efficient and unified place to get it and keep it. When Instapaper came out, it provided the most ideal place for me to save articles that I wanted to read, but proved less efficient for other pieces of content that I wanted to store (little pieces of data, ideas for clients, videos from YouTube to watch, concepts for a future book, column ideas for the Huffington Post or Harvard Business Review). Still, it felt like I was adding in another place to save my content. Then, Pocket came along. Pocket changed everything. I love Pocket.

Why I love Pocket.

Pocket seems to do everything that a lot of other tools did well, but it just works on many levels. Pocket allows you to save anything that you see on the Internet to an asynchronous experience (meaning, it is cloud-based and once an item is saved, you can view it from a computer, tablet or smartphone, so long as you have the apps and are signed in). If you see something in your email, you can forward it to a specific email address and it shows up in Pocket. If you add the Web browser bookmarklet, a little button appears in your Web browser, so you can add that piece of content. And, best of all, you can add tags to everything. It’s simple, fast and easy (I know, this sounds like a commercial, but it’s true). Because the tagging system is so well designed, Pocket makes it extremely simple to not only save content, but keep it organized from day one.

It gets better.

Perhaps one of the best features of Pocket is (much like Instapaper), is that once you save something in the app, it automatically downloads the content. This is huge. It means that while you’re not online, you can still read, review and work with the content. Sure, the vast majority of us are connected all of the time, but this is also magical because the speed of which you can access content (without Pocket having to run off into the Internet, find the link and pull the content down) makes it that much more magical. From flying to public spaces, having all of that saved content on the app (without needing connectivity) is a massive plus.

Everything in your Pocket.  

Of course, as you start using Pocket more, you start seeing the tremendous amount of work that these people are doing to make it better. They have integrated their tool into several apps like Twitter, Flipboard, Zite and more (close to 300 applications). And that is part of the magic too. Pocket made me realize how transient I can be with content. My context for content consumption is so different from when I’m on my MacBook Air to my iPhone to my iPad. Being able to save, consume, share and annotate the content that I’m devouring as an Infovore – no matter what type of hardware I’m staring at – seems to keep the tsunami of publishing from washing me away. Pocket is a true one screen world system.

Organization as part of your New Year’s resolutions.

If you want to get a handle on the content that you’re seeing, and put it to better use, I can’t recommend Pocket enough. As an example: the content that I cover on my Monday morning CHOM FM radio segment is, typically, more of the general news-y things in technology and social media that I don’t bother delving deep into on the blog, in my columns or in books. With Pocket, I can just tag all of that content from Mashable and BuzzFeed as “CHOM” when it comes in, so when it’s time to build the topics of conversation for the radio show on Sunday night, it’s all there… in one click. Once the segment is done, I delete everything with that tag in a very simple way. As human beings, we have never been faced with this much content from so many disparate places, finally you have the right tool on your computer, tablet and smartphone to keep you perfectly informed and totally organized.

If you have some down time during this holiday season, go and check out Pocket. You won’t be sorry.

(full disclosure: Pocket is not a client of Twist Image, I am not invested in this company and I don’t think I know anyone who works there. I just love it :)

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This Blog Is Dead

Let’s admit it. Blogging (as we knew it) is dead.

Is your blood boiling? Are you priming your fingers to lambast this thought in the comment section of this post? Go back in time. Not even all that ago and think about the early days of blogging. What we had was place for online journaling. Posts were seen in chronological order and could be commented on and shared. It was a technological and publishing breakthrough. Suddenly, the cost of publishing plummeted to zero and publishing to the world was almost as easy as it was to print up a document from your word processor. Suddenly, anyone with connectivity could have a thought and publish it in text for the world to see. It’s obvious why the popularity of blogs took hold. It’s equally obvious why the traditional mass media also took a liking to the platform. Newspapers could use blogging as a farm team for their printed publications. They could allow journalists not getting enough ink on paper to explore their ideas on a blog. They could test different types of stories and writers to see if there was a market for their writing, and more. For a person like me, publishing a regular blog enabled me to build an audience, to have a direct relationship with people who liked the same sorts of things that were turning my crank. If an editor didn’t like a story pitch, I could just copy and paste that same text into WordPress, hit “publish” and see if the story had legs. Blogging provided me with a powerful platform that has created awareness for Twist Image, got me on the radar of speaking bureaus, major publishers, a literary agent, book publisher and so much more.

What happened?

Yesterday, Nieman Journalism Lab published an article titled, The blog is dead, long live the blog, by Jason Kottke (who publishes one of the longest continuously running blogs on the Web). Let’s forgo the irony that this piece was published on a blog and read this: “Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids. Instead of launching blogs, companies are building mobile apps, Newsstand magazines on iOS, and things like The Verge. The Verge or Gawker or Talking Points Memo or BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post are no more blogs than The New York Times or Fox News, and they are increasingly not referring to themselves as such.”

The comfort of publishing and sharing.

Blogs aren’t dead, there are just many more ways to take an idea, to publish it and to share it. Blogs were as popular as they were over the past fifteen years not because everybody wanted to write and publish, but because that’s primarily the only way they could share things. Once better, faster and more technologically advance ways came about, consumers navigated to whatever areas were easiest or more congruous to their styles and preferences. The death of blogging is – as they say – greatly exaggerated. With more choices (shall I publish text? Images? Audio? Video?), places to publish (Pinterest? Tumblr? Snapchat? Facebook? YouTube?) and styles (short-like Twitter? Middle of the road for Medium? Long-like a piece for HuffPo? ), we simply have people who are finally able to match their publishing capabilities with their actual areas of interest. This doesn’t mean that blogs are dying, it simply means that people who like more personal/in-depth pieces would trend to a blog while others might like the rapid and real-time fire of Twitter.

It’s less about blogging.

What we’re seeing is an evolution of something I called, Instant Personal Publishing (almost a decade ago). Blogging is a legacy system within that framework. Instagram is as much of a blog post as this is. Consumers interest in sharing and creating content continues to evolve and grow. Blogging is starting to leave the “everyone” stream and finding it’s place in the “blogging” stream. It’s for those interested in more depth, more insight, with a personal slant/opinion, and a regular text-based publishing pace from those who have something to write. Writing isn’t easy. Blogging is a lot harder. Less people are starting blogs because not everyone is going to have the desire or aptitude to write. People are going to read less blogs, simply because they have more options. Bloggers have to do more within other social media and traditional media channels to get their voices heard. No, blogging isn’t dead. Blogging is just starting to find its more relevant audience with people who have a true passion for writing. That’s a good thing, but we can’t be fooled into thinking that blog-type writing will somehow become more popular than creating and sharing pictures and videos and tweets. When given the choice, humans tend to like the speed of looking and snacking.

That’s nothing new.

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The Best Gift That You Can Give Yourself

We are quickly entering into the holiday season.

That’s a lie. We’re already deep into it. The parking lots at the local shopping mall are unbearable. The streets are filled with people trying to get everything in order before we all take a well-deserved break next week to spend time with our loved ones (and the ones we have to fake it with). With that joy and happiness often comes some excess (too much food, too much drink) and some lapses (not enough good judgement, not enough time to go to the gym). As the week unfolds, we look towards the New Year and all of the things that we’re hoping to accomplish to make the next year better than the last one.

Let’s not talk about resolutions.

Forget about what you should be doing. Forget about the few pounds you need to shake off or the exercise program that you’re going to start (CrossFit anyone?). Let’s not talk about that book that you’re finally going to write or how neat and tidy you’re going to keep your work area. Instead, I want you to think about the five people who impress you the most in life. They don’t just have to be business leaders. They could be artists, musicians, celebrities, comedians, philanthropists, comedians, doctors, teachers… it doesn’t really matter. List them off. Take two minutes and write next to their names what makes them so great at what they do. I’ll wait…

What did you find?

Where did presentation skills or their ability to tell a great story show up? Most people don’t realize it, but this is – without a doubt – the one thing that each and every admired individual has in common. Yes, they each have intellect, skill, wisdom, creativity and more, but without their ability to cogently communicate it, most great things simply die on the vine. I’m often asked about my route to success. It’s an awkward thing for me to think about, because I don’t consider myself successful. I still feel like a kid who is on a path and trying to find just the right direction. That being said, I know when I found my confidence… and that came when I got comfortable presenting. I used to panic in meetings. As people would go around the table to introduce themselves, I would get sweaty palms and cotton balls in my mouth as my turn arrived. My voice would be weak and meager when I spoke. I was unsure about myself and worried what others would think of me. When I was first asked to speak in public, I choked. I made all of the classic mistakes. I put it off until the last minute, I wrote up a speech and tried to read it to the audience. It was a brutal. I wanted to die. Several years later, when I got another chance to speak (this time on a much bigger platform), I took the time to get it right (you can read much more about the process right here: How To Give A Great Presentation (Seriously)). That changed everything for me. It made me a better businessperson, a better member of my community, a better friend and a better family member. When I learned how to present, it made me a better person. Period.   

What kind of presentation skills do you have? Seriously.

It’s not about knocking it out of the park in your next sales presentation, it’s about something much deeper. For the next few weeks, start paying close attention to those that you admire and those that you aspire to be. Watch how they present. In small groups. In large groups. When they are one on one. Watch how they not only present ideas and concepts, but how they weave stories in to make a point or to be memorable. My guess is that you will have the same awakening moment as I did (nearly eight years ago). Those who can present… and present well by telling a compelling story… typically win (unless they’re using their powers to be deceitful and dishonest).

Here’s the gift that you can give yourself…

What those people have is not a gift. It’s a skill set. Sure, for some it comes more naturally and some will be better at it than others, but it is still a skill. A learnable skill. Here’s my New Year’s promise to you: the better you get at presenting, the better your income will be. If you’ve been playing along, you will know that I have been blogging daily for over ten years, and I tend to not make dramatic statements like this. But, it is true. I have seen people go from non-existent skills/decent presentation skills to being really good at it, and I’ve seen their income grow exponentially along with their rate of growth in presentation skills. So, if you’re thinking of what to get for yourself during this holiday season, I’m going to recommend that you give yourself the gift of better presentations skills.

Where do you start?

If you want to get started right away, take a look at what your local Toastmasters are doing. I’d also snoop around and see if anyone in your area offers up a course on stand-up comedy. Typically, the gist of those courses get you thinking about how to build a story (in this case, a funny one) and by the end, they want you on stage trying it. You should also follow the blogging, books and courses of people like Nick Morgan, Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, Peter Coughter and Jeffrey Gitomer. Head over to YouTube or iTunes and watch presentations from the people that you admire most. Watch how they build a story and follow their body language as well.

It’s a gift. You deserve to give yourself something. Do this. You will enjoy the process. You will be thankful that you did. Promise.

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Right Hooks And Better Marketing With Gary Vaynerchuk

Episode #387 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a marketing juggernaut. In everything that he does, he is driven. He calls this drive his “hustle,” and he is practically laughing at every other businessperson who doesn’t go out there and give it their one hundred percent (while he is busy lapping them). It is the way this entrepreneur, startup investor, professional speaker, media personality and best-selling author operates. He’s not even 40 years old yet, and he has already turned the local family liquor store into a $40 million dollar business. In just two short years, he turned his social media marketing agency (that he started with his brother), VaynerMedia, into a 300-person plus bi-coastal enterprise. This past week, he published his third business book, Jab Jab Jab Right Hook (following on the heels of Crush It and The Thank You Economy), that deep-dives into what works for brands in the social media channels. He’s someone who knows. With over one million Twitter followers and millions of views for his many different YouTube and video podcast productions, most brands should be paying attention to how he does it. There’s so much more to say, but it’s probably better (and more interesting) to hear it directly from Gary’s mouth. So, enjoy the conversation…

You can grab the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation here (or feel free to subscribe via iTunes): Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast #387.

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Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #179

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.

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When Important Websites Crash

The political punditry around the healthcare website crashing is laughable. People not getting access to their healthcare is serious business.

This isn’t about politics. It’s about technology. As the owner of a digital marketing agency, I frequently find myself in conversation with very senior marketing professionals on the topic of IT and technology. The truth is that I am not an IT professional (not even by a long shot), but I do understand the complexity of creating something in a computer language that was never meant to be commercialized the way it has been, and then put it on to the Internet – a channel that was never meant to support these types of media and work channels – with the expectations that once something is “live” it is as final and complete as a printed ad. It is not.

Technology is a very different form of business.

From programming languages to different Web browsers to Internet service providers to hosting solutions and beyond, actually creating something and getting it online is not as simple as it looks. Sure, businesses will tell you all about their guaranteed lack of downtime and how perfect and smart they are about building robust digital experiences that can withstand the pecking, prodding and pushing of millions of consumers, but in the end, there will always be crashes, bugs and more. In fact, if you’re in this business, you know that bugs and crashes are not only normal, but it is a part of how the product will evolve, improve and be tweaked even after it is live. There is a reason why brands like Google and others always label their live products as in “beta.”

The Internet is a living organism and not a final piece of print.

I read a funny tweet and/or Facebook post the other day (can’t remember who said it and I am paraphrasing), but it went something like: amazing how everyone is up in arms and calling the Obama healthcare website a disaster because it keeps on crashing or not working, but when Apple launches a new iPhone and the same thing happens to their website, it’s considered a huge success. Apparently, the media pundits on the news networks would much rather give their perspective on why a technology is failing rather than discuss the sheer volume and appetite that the public has and is demanding for these types of services.

Embrace the crashes and the bugs.

There is no doubt that heads are rolling down in Washington. The IT and software development companies responsible for this website are probably neck deep in trouble and pulling all-nighters to get it back up and working at an acceptable level. There is nothing funny about this. While it may be an extreme case of how these launches happen, not a day passes without hearing about how a brand or online experience has been hacked, or went buggy or went down for a myriad of reasons. This past week, Buffer was hacked (you can read more about it here: Buffer security breach has been resolved – here is what you need to know). This is problematic, because Buffer allows its clients to schedule the social media that it would like to share across a myriad of social networks. This social media management tool was suddenly pushing spammy comments on to individual’s and corporation’s public pages. Within hours the problem was resolved, and the team at Buffer performed what could only be described as a best practice case study in social media crisis communications, in terms of how they resolved and communicated the issues. And, while the impact of having some sketchy posts on a corporate Twitter feed gets less recognition than a stalling healthcare website, we’re still faced with the true reality of our digital economy:

Technology is a porous wall.

We see this everyday. From governments spying on other governments to e-commerce sites being hacked and revealing consumer’s credit card information to regular glitches and stalls. Who among us doesn’t get frustrated when a simple video on YouTube won’t play or when wi-fi connectivity in a hotel room is shoddy? If you don’t have the education or know-how to understand the many different layers, components and moving parts that keeps this all together, it seems easy to point the finger at one individual, but it’s not. Perhaps the easiest way to think about all of this Internet and technology development is to realize that it is one, big MacGyver moment (yes, the television action series from the eighties). What we have is a media and business platform that has been pulled together by hardware and software, much in the same way that Richard Dean Anderson would escape from a perilous situation by stringing together some chicken wire, bubblegum and a shoelace. Of course, technology is more stable and proven than this. Of course, over the years we have been able to produce much more scalable and solid platforms, but it is still very much all based on a very sensitive and fragile system. One that can collapse with just a few lines of bad code or a whole lot of people trying to do the same thing at the same time on a system that was even tested to handle that type of bandwidth (because tests are never reality).

Let’s not make excuses.

That’s the default position that most people will take. Everything is just an excuse. It should all work perfectly. That is simply not the case with technology. In fact, I would be happy to debate that bugs, crashes, delays and hacks are in fact not mistakes but rather a healthy and normal part of a truly functioning technology. It is as much of a component of what happens in the digital economy as passing gas and burping is to maintaining one’s personal health (smells, sounds and all). Perhaps, the opportunity in all of this hacking and crashing coverage is to better educate the mass population that these sorts of things are a natural part of the technological eco-system, whether we like them or not.

It would be interesting to live in a world where known bugs, crashes and more were expected by all, this way we can be surprised and marvel when technology works rather than being disappointed when it doesn’t.   

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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Are Most Advertisers Asleep At The Wheel?

Advertising used to be easy.

Brands would work their respective agencies, make a media buy, create the ad, place it (in a newspaper, on the radio, television, etc…) and watch to see if anyone cared. In the golden age of advertising, you could – literally – buy your way to the top. As the industry evolved, grew and matured, things changed. Prior to the power of the Web, most media planning was done several months in advance, they worked in fiscal quarters and were highlighted by moments-in-time like holidays and seasons to attract new customers and bring the loyal ones back. The Internet changed everything. Not just in terms of changing the distribution and media models, but in how advertising is planned and managed.

Sadly, there is still too many brands that manage their advertising with a very traditional planning mindset.

You can call this the “set it and forget it” mentality. Media is bought, ads are placed and metrics are gathered post campaign. It seems simple enough, but in a world of Google AdWords, real-time bidding, Facebook‘s newsfeed and more, you can iterate, optimize and build different destinations (or landing pages) for a brand to test and learn – in real time – what is working and what is failing. At a primal level, this means that you can spend your money sparingly and strategically to work towards a better outcome before the media is all spent. There is no need to do a post-mortem to figure out what happened. Instead, you can work towards a better conversion rate when things start to fall apart (as they often do).

But, here’s the thing…

You can’t blame digital advertising for not working if you – as the brand lead – are not doing the hard work. Check this out: Small-to-medium-sized businesses waste 25 percent of their search advertising spend. Re-read that. According to the AdWeek article, Smaller Businesses Waste 25% of Google Search Cash, we’re simply throwing our money into the garbage. From the news item: “The biggest problem is that SMBs only tweak their keyword buys only every 90 days or so, said WordStream chief tech officer Larry Kim, and don’t spend enough time zeroing in on relevant lead generation tactics… What’s more, Kim’s firm found that 95 percent of SMBs don’t have a functioning click-to-call button for their search ads, eliminating the opportunity for countless phone leads.”

“My advertising doesn’t work!”

Here’s a clue: advertising works better than most marketing professional could ever imagine, they’re just not willing to do the heavy lifting required to make it efficient. If AdWeek numbers are true results for SMB’s, what do you think the numbers might look like for larger corporations? I shudder to think. This past week, I spoke at a few events around the continent and would regularly hear the hallway chatter that Facebook advertising doesn’t work or that brands aren’t finding ROI with Twitter or that their Google ad spend isn’t performing like it used to. Advertising is hard. Bringing to it a traditional mindset of defining keywords, then simply running it against budget without putting into place a much more rigorous, real-time accountability plan to iterate and optimize doesn’t make the advertising channel ineffective. It simply means that advertisers haven’t changed their philosophy and approach to digital. In fact, it feels like they’re simply trying to make digital adapt to their traditional ways of planning. That’s the true waste.

Things need to change.

We used to find out about brands in a very different way. We waited for brands to announce to us what they were up to. Now, consumers are infovores. They are on the prowl for information and details about what is the best widget, and why people think it is the best. They’re looking towards their peers for answers. They’re looking to strangers for answers. They’re looking to see if the brands are awake and at their beck and call with answers. They’re using very different media channels and sources to find these answers as well (think: Google, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and beyond). We – the marketing professionals – need to reverse engineer how we make great advertising happen. It needs to happen now. There is only one place to point the finger of blame, in a world where analytics, information and sentiment dances in real time.

It’s on us.

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